Thursday, January 28, 2016

Making time to write, guerrilla-style

You don’t have enough time to write. You’re a student/instructor/unemployed/parent/activist/ philatelist/hand-model/trapezist/Trappist/burglar/gadabout, and let’s face it—there’s just not enough time in the day for the things we’d like to do.

The following are a few strategies—some from the broader world and some from my own experience as a would-be poet who hasn’t always put poetry first—to help you function as an artist despite (or lieu of) your busy schedule.

Be a writer. Make day-trading or trapeze artistry or hand-modeling the thing you do on the side. Writers write. If you’re not a real writer, but rather just a hobbyist, celebrate the fact that you have a really great hobby—but call yourself the thing you most want to be (and it’s OK if that’s not writing). The other things you have to do, even the things you do to make money and feed the kids, can be fit in on the side.

Manage your time. The corporate world has offered us a number of strategies for time management: for taking the twenty-four hours we all have in a day and carving them up in such a way that we can meet our goals. For our corporate friends, those goals are primarily financial. For an artist, the goal is to make art.

Quit trying to multitask. This piece of advice goes along with the first—don’t keep trying to fit writing in on the side. Writers write. And writing well takes focus.

Multitask. No one said writers were logical. You’re not going to quit your job, sell your kids, leave the abbey, quit knocking over liquor stores, etc., so you’re going to have to do writing on the side, despite your best intentions. Writing during spare moments keeps us limber for when we do find ourselves with an opportunity to create.

Change your life. Get 500 pounds and a room of your own. Better yet: win MegaMillions.

Here are a few prompts for guerrilla-style writing projects:

  • Eavesdrop. Listen to the conversations of those around you on the bus, on TV, in the classroom, in the union, or wherever you happen to be. Then, pluck from the air a promising sentence and make it the first line of a poem. Alternately, create a pastiche poem using many scraps of overheard conversation. Challenge yourself not to add a word—just to rearrange.
  • Pick up where you left off. Start a project and then return to it, rather than starting new each time. My chapbook Stone for an Eye came from this kind of project—a daily meditation on a particular stone that I wore around my neck.
  • Exploit a misunderstanding. In my life as a composition instructor, I often encounter funny misunderstandings of words—things given to us on a “silver bladder,” holding someone on a “petal stool.” Make an error into art by exploring new meanings in a poem. (This is a good prompt for a student—you’re supposed to mess up on a near-daily basis.)
  • Imitate. Find a small piece of writing that you wish you had written. Then—write it, your own way. These to me are more of an exercise than a viable piece of writing, but again, part of what we’re talking about is staying in shape for the writing time to come.
  • Start an exquisite corpse that’s just for you. Write a line a day and see where it takes you.
  • Choose a contest and plan to enter it. Note the deadline and don’t miss it. Make yourself follow through.
  • Rant and rave. Write a poison pen letter; pound out a manifesto. Take up a cause. You don’t have to send these pieces of writing to anyone—they’re just a way to keep the pen moving or the keyboard clicking.


  1. I find myself wanting to say AMEN in response to your posts lately. This one is particularly spot-on.

  2. Replies
    1. You're NOT some random creeper? Ha! Thanks for saying that. If anyone knows "busy," it's you! I'd love to hear your tips some time.

    2. Slow and steady, which really can sometimes mean glacial and sporadic and almost never. But trying to make sure that every single morning, no matter what, a line or two gets down, is what works for me.

  3. For this encouragement and the tips, thank you,Karen!